A religious school in the restive Deep South of Thailand accused of involvement with insurgent groups has closed down after the court ordered the confiscation of the school plot of land despite the authorities’ attempts to convince the school operators to appeal the verdict.
The BBC Thai Service reported that on Sunday, 14 February 2016, the Waemanor family, who had been running a Pondok, Islamic religious school, called ‘Jihad Pondok’ in Talo-Kapo Village, Yaring District, Pattani Province, packed their belongings after the court issued an order to confiscate the land on which their house and the school are located.
The Civil Court in December 2015 ruled to confiscate the land under the 1999 Anti-Money Laundering Act after 11 years of legal battle.
In 2005, the Thai authorities issued arrest warrants for 36 insurgent suspects accused of sedition and rebellion. The authorities reported that two of the suspects testified during interrogation that they were trained to use weapons on the school grounds.
18 of the 36 suspects reported to the authorities to fight the case and were released afterwards because of weak evidence. However, a number of suspects remained at large, including a former principal of Jihad Pondok, Dor-loe Waemanor.
With the testimonies of two insurgent suspects and its former principal at large, the prosecutors later filed a case to the Civil Court to have the land of the school confiscated.
According to official news sources, Dor-loe allegedly fled to Malaysia.
Banyal Waemanor, Dor-loe’s son, told the BBC that military officers paid him visits and encouraged his family to appeal the verdict.
“Many officers told us to try to appeal the verdict. We felt really strange. Why are they telling us to appeal the verdict when they were the ones who sued us?” said Banyal. “I just want the case to end. I can’t endure what I had to face in the last 11 years any longer.”
Don Pathan, a former reporter of the Nation who is an expert on the Deep South conflict, wrote on Patani Forum that many local activists think that the closure of Jihad Pondok might deepen distrust between Muslim communities in the region and the Thai state.
“The forced closure of Jihad Pondok gives advantage to the separatist movement perfectly because it will deepen the distrust between the Thai state and the local people in Pattani which the Thai state has been trying to win over for a long time,” Don wrote.
Yesterday, many people in Talo-Kapo village helped the family to relocate.
Banyal said that the 14-rai plot of land where the school and the Waemanor family home are located belongs to his mother and her siblings not his father and that the local people helped the family to build the school.
He added that the Thai state has always been suspicious of the school because of its name, Jihad Pondok, an Islamic term which was distorted by the media despite the fact that for the majority of Muslim people ‘jihad’ means an inner struggle with oneself to perform good deeds.
Last week, Bernama, a Malaysian government media organization, reported that the peace negotiations between MARA Patani, an umbrella organisation of insurgent groups in Thailand’s Deep South, and the Thai state have shown progress.
The Malaysian media reported that the latest meeting between the two parties was on the Terms of References (TOR) before the formal peace negotiations could start.
Don, however, wrote on Patani Forum that the prospects for formal peace talks between the two parties are still uncertain because the Thai state is still reluctant to accept MARA Patani as an equal partner at the negotiating table.
Moreover, despite the fact that two key members of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the most active insurgent group in the region, are represented in MARA Patani, it is clear that the two do not have authority over the activities of the BRN.
The Waemanor family moving out of their home, located on the same land as Jihad Pondok, on 14 February 2016 following a court order (images courtesy of BBC Thai)